Asian Art Museum
museum in San Francisco, California



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Asian Art Museum
museum in San Francisco, California
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200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, California
United States

More about Asian Art Museum

ldare's picture

Sr. Editor

Asian Art Museum benefits from an allegedly anti-Semitic art collector.

This beautiful museum is in the middle of San Francisco’s sketchy Tenderloin district and neighbor to crack addicts and prostitutes. The collection was started when Avery Brundage, the only American president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and a pentathlon and decathlon participant in the 1912 Summer Olympics, donated his collection of Asian art to San Francisco. Some speculate that Brundage was an anti-Semite because he fought so hard to let Nazi Germany host the Olympics and allowed a coach to replace two Jewish runners with African-American Ralph Metcalf and Jesse Owens. He never denied those accusations.

Brundage was able to use the tragedy of World War II to collect Asian art for cheap; while traveling through Asia for the IOC he obtained large collections when wealthy families started to lose their fortunes and had his pick of art from Japanese families who were sent to Internment camps in America.

While his collection was impressive he clearly needed an archivist, as parts of the collection were stored in shoeboxes under his bed.

The collection was first housed in a wing of the de Young museum in 1966, which it quickly outgrew. Tech entrepreneur Chong Moon Lee donated $15 million in 1995 to help jumpstart the inevitable $160 million renovation.

In 2003, Italian architect Gae Aulenti, who also renovated the Musee d’Orsay, converted San Francisco’s Main Library into the new museum.

According to the Internet this is “The world’s most comprehensive collection of Asian art in the world.” A quick look through a list of Asian art museums puts this one down at 20/22 in terms of collection size…so take that fact with a grain of salt.

Their weird upside-down “A” logo is the suggestion of a branding agency. Something about seeing art from a new perspective. I think it just looks stupid.

The museum is meant to be experienced by taking the escalators to the top floor and working your way down. I was distracted by the gorgeous Beaux-Arts grand staircase located at the front entrance and ended up going to the second floor then the third floor and then back down to the ground floor where the special exhibits are. I ended up walking a little more than I needed to and the collection still made sense but seeing it chronologically might've been better.

I only grabbed a cup of iced tea (it was an unusually hot day in SF) but like other San Francisco museums this cafe is mighty impressive. There are tons of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options to accomodate every fad diet. 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture houses one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world, with more than 18,000 works of art in its permanent collection, some as much as 6,000 years old.


The museum owes its origin to a donation to the city of San Francisco by Chicago millionaire Avery Brundage, who was a major collector of Asian art. The Society for Asian Art, incorporated in 1958, was the group that formed specifically to gain Avery Brundage's collection. The museum opened in 1966 as a wing of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. Brundage continued to make donations to the museum, including the bequest of all his remaining personal collection of Asian art on his death in 1975. In total, Brundage donated more than 7,700 Asian art objects to San Francisco.

The museum was awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation for their contributions to promotion of cultural exchange through art between Japan and the United States on December 1, 2020.

Jay Xu is the Museum's Director.


Until 2003, the museum shared a space with the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. As the museum's collection grew, the facilities in Golden Gate Park were no longer sufficient to display or even house the collection. In 1987 Mayor Dianne Feinstein proposed a plan to revitalize Civic Center that included relocating the museum to the Main Library. In 1995, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chong-Moon Lee made a $15 million donation to launch the funding campaign for a new building for the museum.

During its last year in the park, it was closed for the purpose of moving to its new location. It reopened on March 20, 2003, in the former San Francisco city library building opposite of the San Francisco Civic Center, which was renovated for the purpose, under the direction of Italian architect Gae Aulenti. Lord Cultural Resources, a cultural professional practice, was also commissioned to undertake a three-part sequence of planning studies for the relocation of the Museum.

The old Main library was a Beaux Arts-style building designed by George Kelham in 1917. The new $160.5 million project, designed by Gae Aulenti, introduced an indoor sky-lit court to provide a dramatic central core to the museum. Removing some interior walls, Aulenti created a sense of openness to facilitate visitor movement and the display of the artwork. The new 185,000-square-foot (17,200 m2) museum increased the exhibition space by approximately 75 percent compared to the former Golden Gate Park location.

The renovation also brought a seismic upgrade scheme to the building involving base isolation. Bearings were placed over the foundation system below the building's current slab on grade with a new basement constructed above the bearings in the process. Furthermore the superstructure was stiffened through the addition of concrete shear walls, allowing for a rigid lateral load path for all sections of the building.

In October 2011, the museum launched a new identity. Designed by the branding agency Wolff Olins, the logo is an upside down A, representing the idea of approaching Asian art from a new perspective.


In March, 2016, the museum announced that it will build an additional new pavilion to its current San Francisco Civic Center Building. The new pavilion will sit atop an existing, lower-level wing on the museum's Hyde Street side; and it will add about 9,000 square feet of new space to the museum's first floor. The expansion is expected to open by September 2019. In January 2019, Abby Chen was appointed as the Head of Contemporary Art.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Asian Art Museum (San Francisco).